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Psalm 73: The Most Influential Passage of Scripture (To Me)

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But for me it is good to be near God. Psalm 73:28

Recently I was asked what passage of Scripture had most influenced my life. It’s a great question. My answer: Psalm 73.

When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward You. Nevertheless, I am continually with You; You hold my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from You shall perish; You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to You. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works.  Psalm 73: 21-28

Twenty-five years ago, I first encountered this Psalm. It impacted me so much that I wrote a Scripture song using its words. (Unfortunately, not a very good one.) It has resonated with me ever since.

Verse 1 declares the goodness of God, and verses 2-20 are an extended meditation on the sometimes prosperous lives of godless people, and the devastation awaiting them. It then pivots to the rich goodness of a Godward life, characterized by nearness to, desire for, and expectant hope in God. The passage quoted above closes it out in one of the most beautiful passages in the whole Bible. Reflecting on the goodness of God and the life He has made available to me in Psalm 73 slingshots my heart past the ephemeral things that so often have my attention, to the glorious hope of the world to come when all things are made new in and through Jesus Christ. Every time I read it, it recalibrates my heart to sing and live God’s praise.

It is timeless and universal, and helps me reconnect to the desire for God the Psalm expresses, and that I want to pursue.

God is good, and He does good (Psalm 119:68). Cultivating a life of desiring and pursuing Him matters, and is the only way of life that makes sense given His goodness to His people, in Christ. In Christ, God is the strength of our hearts and our portion forever. He can be my refuge, today. I can tell of all His works, today. Like the Psalmist, my soul has at times been embittered, but in Christ, my soul is found flawless before the Father. Although I have been pricked in heart, desired lesser things, and failed in many ways in my own resources, in Christ, I have been brought into the presence of the Father, unblemished. In Christ and the resources of the Holy Spirit, my fluctuating Godward desire embraces God’s constant amazing grace.

I love to remember the truths Psalm 73 proclaims! They move me to worship and orient my heart to life as it truly is from an eternal perspective. They renew me, inviting me to lift my eyes to that which matters most. They help me both trust and obey the Lord.

My/Our Story: Decade 2

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“Decade 2” of my post-collegiate, adult life runs from 2009-2018. So not quite a decade. Opening and closing a church in short order, as I did in North Port, was life-changing for me. Convinced I had failed in my calling, I left pastoral ministry in 2009 and moved our family to North Carolina. I worked for five years in “the family business” at my dad’s insurance agency, expecting to build a new career. Instead, God used those years to heal, restore, and renew me for future kingdom work. My identity in Christ and God’s love for me, regardless of my performance and success, became more precious to me. I grew in empathy for broken and hurting people and in my understanding of His grace amidst adversity. He also deepened my sense of calling and gave me a strong desire to return to pastoral ministry. The years I spent as a church planter and in North Carolina blessed and changed me in unexpected ways.

When I was called to serve at Kaleo in 2014, I was excited to be pastoring again. However, the difficulties I was to encounter here lay just ahead of me. Looking back, the adversities I have faced in and out of ministry have both played a part in preparing me for how God has used me here. As a result, I have come to thank God for the adversity and trials He has brought me through. They have been God’s instrument to refine me, making me more fully His own and more useful in His service.

Second to following Jesus, loving my family well is the most important thing in my life. Jenny and I love and enjoy life together and with our kids. As a family, we stay busy with scouting, youth group, ballet, piano, and school. While moving around has brought some challenges, God has given us great stability and joy in the journey. We know that the Lord is good and gives good gifts to His children, even through adversity. Jenny and I are looking forward with anticipation to what God has in store for our family, confident that all things are working together for our good.

My/Our Story: Decade 1

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Jenny and I grew up near Venice, Florida, a small beach town just south of Tampa. We were both raised in church; Jenny professed faith in Christ at age five and I at age nine. At sixteen, God drew me to pursue Him more deeply, launching me on a trajectory toward vocational ministry. I was discipled in a great youth ministry and then went to Moody Bible Institute, anticipating becoming a pastor. After finishing college and getting married in 1998, we moved home in hopes that I might be raised up in ministry through our home church. And that’s where my story picks up; 1999-2009 is “Decade 1” of my post-collegiate, adult life.

In 2001 the Lord fulfilled that hope when, after several years of preparation, Venice Bible Church called me as their youth pastor.

Over the next eight years, I served in three churches that were all connected. My ministry at Venice Bible Church ended when the church split in 2004. I went on to become the associate pastor of Grace Community Bible Church, which started as a result of that split. Ministry was both fruitful and challenging at GCBC, as can often be the case following a church split. From inception, the plan was for the church to send us out as church planters after a few years. In 2007 we were sent out to plant a daughter church in North Port, a smaller but quickly growing, town nearby.

We began North Port Bible Church as the impact of the subprime mortgage crisis and resulting housing collapse began to be felt. North Port was substantially impacted, having been a boom town with artificially high home prices. The financial losses that hit families as home values plummeted devastated the area. Construction and service industry jobs were the primary employment base and both dried up almost overnight. By early 2008, 75% of our church family was facing some form of unemployment, potential home foreclosure, or both. As a result, the church was unable to become financially self-sustaining, and we decided to close in 2009.

My/Our Story: The Basics

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Called to invest my life in the advance of Christ’s kingdom as a pastor, ministry strengths include shepherding, preaching, and leadership. I am passionate about equipping the church for community and mission and giving hope to the broken. I want to serve a healthy, gospel-centered church that is relationally focused. Jenny and I have been happily married for nineteen years and have three kids: Caleb (13), Carson (12), and Gracie (10). We look forward to settling in and growing deep roots in the church, neighborhood, and community God calls us to.

I have served as a lead pastor for five years, during which I planted one church and led another through a time of crisis. Before that, I was a youth or associate pastor for six years, and have more than twenty years of experience in local church ministry. I also have eight years of experience working in the insurance industry, during which I served and led in all aspects of church life as a volunteer. My “out of ministry” years deepened my perspective on vocational ministry and the value of a healthy church in the life of a family.

The Church Ought To: Introduction and Summary

 

In the preceding series of posts, I have laid out what I think the church is called to be and do and how a church’s pastors are to lead and serve. To sum it up, I believe a church must be rooted in the good news about Jesus, pursue the community and mission to which the gospel calls us, and depend upon the Holy Spirit completely to produce fruit, praying to that end.

This series lays out my understanding of the church’s purpose and mission. It is drawn from my philosophy of ministry, available here.

 

The Church Ought To… (5)

I finished my last post with, “In the following post, I will share the personal distinctives that impact my ministry as clearly as I can.” Here goes…

I am passionate about and thankful for the God’s Word, the gospel, and the life of community and mission that the gospel calls everyday Christians into. A healthy church begins with the full and consistent proclamation of the good news about Jesus through the teaching and preaching of God’s Word. God blesses the church and it’s members to enter into counter-cultural community and mission, in Christ, and in the resources of the Holy Spirit.

Pastors are called to teach and equip the church toward these ends, and church members are called to grow in living counter-culturally lives of sharing life with one another, and sharing the gospel with the world in word and deed, and honoring Jesus as King. While many of us know we are called to this sort of whole-life discipleship, we need constant reminding; at least I do. So, the church is a to be a place where we are consistently reminded of this calling, and also of the presence and power of the Spirit in us to engage it.

These distinctives impact how I endeavor to pastor and lead in the following four ways. I believe that:

  • The church should constantly emphasize the proclamation of the gospel and teaching of God’s Word. A healthy church will make much of Jesus and treasure God’s Word, sound doctrine.
  • The church should emphasize gospel community. A healthy church is an outpost, or forward operating base, of God’s kingdom where King Jesus already rules in our hearts, lives, and relationships. We are to live our lives in keeping with the way of Jesus; dependent upon, and in step with, the Holy Spirit.
  • The church should emphasize the mission that the gospel calls us to and empowers us for. The blessings God gives to His children in Christ are not self-terminating. Rather, as we are blessed and benefitted by His mercy and grace, that blessing ought to flow through us to bless and benefit others. We are blessed to be a blessing, as God’s people have been going all the way back to Abraham.
  • The church should emphasize and pursue the full resources of the Holy Spirit for life, worship, and ministry. The church is empowered, instructed, and helped in all her work by the Spirit. It is through the Spirit that Jesus keeps His promise to be with us always as we embrace the Great Commission. Whenever God uses us to accomplish His work, it is the Spirit operating through us that brings forth fruit.

This series lays out my understanding of the church’s purpose and mission. It is drawn from my philosophy of ministry, available here.

The Church Ought To… (4)

Pastors* are to humbly, prayerfully, and courageously lead and shepherd people toward these ends. They are called to proclaim the gospel, nurture those God has entrusted to their care, equip them to proclaim the gospel as well, and labor to present everyone mature and complete in Jesus Christ. The pastor’s primary work includes praying, preaching and teaching God’s Word, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, and entrusting the gospel and all that grows from it to faithful men that they may teach others also. In addition, pastors are to be called, seasoned, and biblically qualified men. In sum, men who are above reproach are to serve the church in their praying, gospel proclamation, ministry of the Word, equipping of the saints, and entrusting of the gospel to others. There are additional duties given to pastors in the New Testament. However, gospel proclamation, the ministry of the Word, prayer, administering the sacred ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and equipping believers for the work of ministry are the central tasks of pastoral ministry.**

All of this provokes a critical question: How can pastors most faithfully embrace their high calling? How are they to lead people and churches given the duties and character requirements Scripture prescribes? While most evangelical pastors would agree with the paragraph above, their personal distinctives result in different leadership, culture, and outcomes in the churches they serve. In the following post, I will share the personal distinctives that impact my ministry as clearly as I can.

 

* The biblical plan for leadership in the local church is for a plurality of elders to serve and oversee the church. One or more of those elders may be “worthy of double honor” and function as the first among equals, thus the distinction between lay and vocational elders. The function and role of vocational and non-vocational elders will vary in keeping calling, gifting, availability, and experience. However, the plurality of elders in a church is to lead the church as a team, as one whole. For the sake of simplicity, I have primarily used the terms “pastor” or “pastors” in this document, but the phrases “pastor and elder” or “pastors and elders” could have been used instead.

** Relevant passages of Scripture include Acts 20:18-21, 1 Peter 5:1-4, 2 Timothy 4:1-8, 1 Thessalonians 2:2, Ephesians 4:11-13, Colossians 1:27-29, Acts 6:4, Ephesians 4:11-12, 2 Timothy 2:2, Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9.

This series lays out my understanding of the church’s purpose and mission. It is drawn from my philosophy of ministry, available here.